Student's essay recalls father's battle against cancer

Towson resident Alex Pizzala, 16, lost his father to lung cancer in May 2010. Tom Pizzala was 55 when he died.

Pizzala put his grief into words, and through a blog and an essay about the loss of his father, the 2011 Loyola Blakefield graduate has shared his experiences with others facing similar loss.

Last moth, that essay also earned him a $2,500 scholarship from the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, in Towson.

"I'm really honored and I'm really happy," Pizzala said in a video posted by the medical center regarding the scholarship award. "I know my dad's proud; I know my mom's proud."

The medical center's Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute created the scholarship in memory of Jason Smith, 27, who died of brain cancer in 2006.

This is the first year the scholarship was awarded, and it will be awarded annually hereafter to a college-bound student who has been a patient, or is the child of a patient, treated for cancer at GBMC.

In addition to his father having been a patient there, Pizzala's mother and aunt work at the center.

About 20 other people applied for the scholarship, according to Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for GBMC.

Pizzala's essay recalls some of the trials experienced by his father, and his family.

"At 1:00 a.m., May 24, 2010, I could not sleep; I went to Hospice to visit him. Once there, I realized that his breathing was worse and that his chest would sink every time he inhaled. At this point, he had lapsed into a coma.

"Intuitively I knew that this would be the night, and I cried alone with him for the last time. I left the room for a single moment to call my mom.

"When I came back into the room, he was already gone."

Hospital officials said that while Pizzala's father was at Gilchrist Hospice Care on the medical center's Towson campus, the teen visited his dad every day.

Even before applying for the scholarship, Pizzala had already put much of his thoughts about his father's battle with cancer into words at his blog,

He started the blog on May 4, 2010, and composed a few dozen entries until his father's death May 24.

Pizzala could not be reached this week for comment, but another excerpt from his essay reflects the impact that his father's passing has had on his outlook for the future:

"My father has impacted my life unlike any other person. He taught me countless things: how to swim, bodysurf, skimboard, skateboard, fish, play the guitar, sing, and much more, but most importantly, he showed me how to love and have a good time.

"I will never forget the memories we shared together, and I know that his spirit follows me every day of my life. His death has made me aware of the incredible fragility of life, and I have learned to be more appreciative of my non-material wealth, family and friends.

"He has taught me many things, but most importantly he has modeled the person that I want to be for the rest of my life."

Pizzala will attend the University of Delaware in August.

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